By: Sean Crose
On July 20th, former heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY’s, ESPN’s big annual awards show. Klitschko, who once held the WBC heavyweight title (his brother Wladimir held the division’s other major belts), is now the mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city. Ukraine, of course, is in the midst of a bloody war since being invaded by the Russian military this past winter. Since that time, Klitschko has emerged as a leading figure in his nation’s defense.
A 50 year old father of three, Klitschko became mayor of Kiev in 2014. Since retiring from boxing in 2013, Klitschko has earned a reputation for being as fearless in politics as he was in the ring. The same year as his retirement, for instance, Klitschko was assaulted at an outdoor protest, only to resume speaking to the crowd. Now, however, the man is very publicly facing Europe’s biggest direct military challenge since World War Two. As Kevin Iole of Yahoo put it, Klitschko “may have signed his own death warrant.”
As for the reward he is set to receive from ESPN, the wartime mayor is grateful for the acknowledgement. “It is a great honor for me to receive this award,” said the fighter turned politician. “I am convinced that this is a recognition of the courage and inviolability of the Ukrainian people, who have been bravely resisting the Russian aggressor for more than 3 months.” Klitschko went on to add that the award isn’t for him alone. “This is an award for everyone who defends the independence and freedom of Ukraine.”
“Vitali’s poise and strength as his city and country faces unfathomable tests have far surpassed the incredible resolve he demonstrated as one of boxing’s top heavyweight champions,” ESPN honcho Rod King said. “His commitment to the people of Ukraine has been a global inspiration, and his bravery is a prime example of the resilience of the human spirit. It is our privilege to bestow him with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.”
Klitschko boxed professionally from 1996 to 2012, earning a record of 45 wins and 2 losses – one of those losses being against all time great Lennox Lewis in the Englishman’s last professional fight. Klitschko was giving Lewis quite a battle before the bout was stopped due to a nasty cut on Klitschko’s face that had been opened by a clean Lewis shot.